Orange County CEO Mike Giancola announced Wednesday that he plans to retire in September, less than two-and-a-half years after he was promoted to the top job.
In a memo to county supervisors Wednesday morning, Giancola cited health reasons for his decision to retire earlier than expected.
"I had intended to stay longer but my recent health issues caused me to re-evaluate the timing and my priorities," said Giancola, who has worked for the county for 37 years. "My hope is that announcing my decision now will allow for a more measured transition.”
Giancola went on medical leave in January to recuperate from back surgery, leaving Chief Financial Officer Frank Kim in charge until he returned in late February.
Supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer said he’s “sad to see” Giancola leave the county, crediting him with professionalizing management and focusing on succession planning.
“He had very, very serious back surgery, and it’s gonna take longer to heal than I think he anticipated, and he’s gotta take care of himself," Spitzer said. "That’s first and foremost."
Spitzer lauded Giancola for shepherding the county through the final stages of its obligations stemming from the 1994 bankruptcy, saying "he's really set us up well."
The leader of the main county employees union, meanwhile, says many observers were expecting Giancola’s retirement after an employee survey showed extremely low morale among workers.
“I think after this employee survey came out, it was inevitable that he had lost the confidence of the employees, so that, combined with his health…I think everyone was anticipating his retirement would be sooner than later,” said Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
“The corruption in county government, the lack of morale – lowest morale ever – and the county’s largest contracts, which are IT resources, collapsing, paints a very bleak picture of his tenure.”
Supervisors chose Giancola for the CEO job in May 2013 after the previous chief executive, Tom Mauk, was forced to resign in the wake of the Carlos Bustamante abuse scandal.
Giancola didn’t respond to an interview request.
Spitzer, meanwhile, attributed frustration with Giancola to his tough financial positions on behalf of taxpayers.
“Any time you’re holding the course financially…you have to have a tight belt because of the bankruptcy and the economy, you’re gonna get criticized for that,” said Spitzer.
Giancola started at the county parks department in 1979. After a brief stint in the Navy, he returned to the county in 1985 as a groundskeeper, then transferred to the trash department as a laborer. Within three years he had been promoted into the ranks of management, and 20 years later was named head of OC Waste & Recycling.
At the end of his tenure atop OC Waste & Recycling, Giancola was accused of potentially involvement in illegal salvaging at the county landfill, according to a lawsuit by a former human resources manager Kathleen Tahilramani.
Tahilramani's suit claimed that after she brought the allegations forward, Giancola retaliated against her and sought to move her into another job.
While refusing to comment on specifics, Giancola maintained at the time of the lawsuit that he did nothing improper. The suit was ultimately dismissed, with the judge saying Tahilramani didn’t qualify for whistleblower status because reporting allegations were part of her job.
The county hired a private firm to probe the allegations of private salvaging, and the resulting investigation cleared Giancola of wrongdoing.
In his time as CEO, Giancola has been credited by supervisors with having good relations with the board and ensuring information reaches all five of them at the same time.
He also received two raises in his first year-and-a-half on the job, which drew criticism from labor leaders as county officials were taking a hard line with employees during contract negotiations.
Members of the Board of Supervisors are slated to have a behind-closed-doors discussion regarding a search effort for Giancola's replacement during their regular meeting Tuesday.